This 2011 schedule for the Mariners is rapidly shaping into a cruel joke for new manager Eric Wedge. Not only did Wedge just suffer a sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Indians, the only other club he’s ever managed in the majors, but now, the Toronto Blue Jays come to town featuring a bench coach, Don Wakamatsu, who was in the exact same shoes as Wedge this time a year ago.
Last year at this time, Wakamatsu’s team got off to a great start in the season opener, scoring runs and getting key hits to go with its strong pitching, then completely reverted to what would actually be true form for the remainder of the season.
As Wedge is doing right now, Wakamatsu kept looking for positives, kept stressing the need to focus on fundamentals. But finally, he and others came to the realization that it just wasn’t happening.
It’s too early for Wedge to abandon hope right now. We’re only nine games into a 162-game schedule.
Still, it doesn’t take a genius to pinpoint some similarities between the 2010 and 2011 clubs. Most notably, the lack of a big bat or two sprinkled throughout the lineup that can be counted on to cash in on the baserunners the team does get.
That’s a problem above Wedge’s paygrade. It’s not his job to import bats. He has to put the team together based on what he’s been given. And so, like it or not, this is the best he’s going to have to work with right now.
So, what to do about a team that scored 11 runs its first two games against the error-prone Oakland A’s, but just 18 in its next seven contests? About the only thing Wedge has been doing — keep stressing the fundamentals.
The most encouraging thing I saw this weekend — other than the bullpen finally stopping some bleeding rather than adding to it during yesterday’s contest — was Wedge encouraging his players during Friday’s blowout to avoid “giving away” at-bats.
Despite being down 11-0 in the fourth inning, the Mariners did indeed manage to work some counts. We saw Ryan Langerhans earn four walks and the M’s knock Indians starter Carlos Carrasco out of the game after six innings. The M’s did outscore the Indians 3-1 from the bottom of the fourth inning onward.
Yeah, I know. Doesn’t matter in terms of the final score.
But if the M’s are ever going to set themselves up for better things, they do have to keep working counts. They do have to knock opposing starters out before they manage to go seven innings or more. And they will, eventually, have to find a legit middle-of-the-order bat or two that can do some real damage when it counts.
Maybe Justin Smoak will be one of those someday. He isn’t quite there yet.
And yes, Jack Cust was supposed to be at least a partial answer to that equation. Thing is, you need more than Cust alone. Russell Branyan couldn’t do it by himself in 2009 or 2010 and Cust at his best is like a healthier version of Branyan.
Again, those are questions above Wedge’s paygrade.
All he can do now is make improvements with what he’s been given. Same as Wakamatsu tried to do a year ago.
Wedge is only in his first year as a manager here, so the advantage he’ll have over his predecessor is one of time. Teams don’t fire managers in Year 1 (well, unless you count John McLaren as having been in his first full year…but then, I digress). So, Wedge will have at least this year and beyond to accomplish the things he’s set out to do.
And hopefully, in time, he’ll be given the tools Wakamatsu never received in order to improve on an offense that’s been among the worst in baseball several years running.
And that’s the good news for Wedge. That even though history appears to be repeating itself here, there is still time to undo a lot of it.
It begins with the process. And a steel-edged willingness to overlook all the daily win-loss reminders of how badly things are going.
You fix the process, then hope others in a position to help you out will extend a hand as well. And then, maybe a year from now…perhaps a little more…you’ll get that life preserver thrown your way.
Or, you drown.
Baseball’s a tough gig. Just ask Wakamatsu.